We need to change the way we generate and consume energy if we're going to have a liveable climate for future generations. One of the ways we can do this by using our own smart meters to make more energy efficient decisions, but smart meters have a much wider importance in the fight against climate change than helping us to use a little less energy. If smart meters aren't only a tool for saving households energy, what are they for, and why are they so important in dealing with climate change?
A clean energy revolution has begun
Britain's energy system has already begun a transformation that will change it forever. In 2018 one-third of Britain's electricity was provided by renewables and almost 60,000 plug-in electric vehicles were sold. Onshore wind is now the cheapest form of electricity and the price of offshore wind is rapidly coming down. It is predicted that the price of electric vehicles will be the same or lower than the cost of petrol and diesel cars in the first half of the 2020s. The good news is that green energy is cheap and locally produced electricity is more efficient, as energy gets lost if it travels a long way across the country. Not only that, but households can make money from generating their own clean energy, selling excess to the grid, or even selling it peer-to-peer to their neighbours.
Our economy needs to be zero carbon
The energy transformation needs to accelerate. To meet the Paris Agreement's target of limiting warming to 1.5 celsius, Britain's economy will have to be net-zero emissions before 2050. Not only will that require all of Britain's electricity to be generated by low-carbon sources, but we will also need to entirely decarbonise heat and transport, too. That's where electric vehicles and gas-replacement technologies like heat pumps come in, to replace diesel, petrol and gas - but EVs and heat pumps will require Britain to replace those fuels with more electricity. The time of day when we all use energy is also a challenge, as we're likely to need to use the most electricity to heat our homes on winter evenings, when demand is highest. In short, we're trying to decarbonise our electricity system at the same time as adding significant demand to it. If we're not careful, much of that demand will need to be met by dirty fossil fuels.
We need new meters
Take, for example, a typical electric vehicle owner in the 2020s. They could come home from work at 6pm, when demand from homes and offices is at its highest, and plug in their EV to charge, adding even more demand to the grid. That demand would be more expensive to meet and risk being met by fossil fuels. Not only that, but when we all have EVs, those extra connections will place strain on local energy networks, resulting in billions of pounds of upgrades. There is an alternative. With a smart meter and smart charger, the electric vehicle could be automatically set to charge when demand is low and the energy being produced is green. With a time-of-use tariff, enabled by smart meters, the vehicle owner will be rewarded with cheap energy for using it outside of the peak and Britain's energy system can benefit through avoiding the costs and carbon of increased peak demand. Even more incredibly, the EV owner could even come home from work and power their home from their car. EVs are essentially batteries on wheels, after all.
The regional network companies will be able to benefit from de-personalised smart meter data, helping them to more efficiently plan their upgrades so that some of the costs to our energy network of going low carbon are avoided, reducing energy bills. The more of us that have smart meters, the more our networks can benefit.
Smart meters for the climate
Smart meters - alongside automation and time-of-use tariffs - can reduce peak demand and help our energy networks, easing the move to a low carbon electricity system and the decarbonisation of heat and transport. Without smart meters, decarbonisation will be less well coordinated, costlier and even risk not happening at the level necessary to tackle climate change. That is why we need people to take up smart meters - it's an important step we can all take to do our bit for our energy infrastructure and our environment.